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A large wave breaks and a sunset can be seen in the background.

Today, communities around the world are celebrating World Ocean Day.  The ocean is the beating heart of our planet.  We are all connected to it, and it in turn connects us all.  Its abundance feeds us.  Its currents drive the climate and weather patterns that make our planet home.  It captivates our imaginations and inspires our music, art, and literature.  It is an integral part of rich cultures and spiritual beliefs of communities all over the world.  The shipping patterns and cables that crisscross its basins build bridges between people thousands of miles apart.  The ocean, truly, is what makes us one global community.  

Covering more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface, the ocean is vast and complex, and so are the challenges it faces.  Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens marine biodiversity and the billions of people that rely on the long-term sustainability of marine resources for food or income.  Climate change is impacting ocean currents and chemistry, stressing marine species that are finely adapted to their habitats and impacting the ocean’s ability to act as a climate buffer for our entire planet.   

Plastic water bottle and bag floating in sea.
Some of the plastic that pollutes our ocean. [Image by Shutterstock]

We are producing a constant stream of pollution, especially plastic, that is flowing into the ocean.  Over eight million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean each year.  And our activities are degrading the coastal and marine habitats that act to sequester carbon, serve as critical habitat, and protect coastal communities from dangerous storm surges, among other benefits.   

Global problems require global solutions, and we must work together as a global community to solve them.  And we are.  In the past year, the United States has joined the international community to take a number of important steps to preserve the health of the ocean for generations to come:  

We’re fighting back against marine pollution by negotiating an ambitious, innovative, and country-driven global agreement on plastic pollution. 

We’re taking steps to conserve 30 percent of the global ocean, which science tells us is critical to the long-term health of the ocean.  This year, we concluded negotiations on the “High Seas Treaty,” which will promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.  In particular, this new treaty will create, for the first time, a system to establish marine protected areas on the high seas.   

And the United States continues to be a global leader in driving ambitious commitments at the Our Ocean Conferences.  At the 2023 conference, the United States announced nearly $6 billion to address marine pollution, climate change, sustainable fishing, marine conservation, maritime security, and building a sustainable blue economy.  The conference as a whole generated nearly $20 billion in commitments across these six action areas.  


Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries and Polar Affairs Maxine Burkett at the 2023 Our Ocean Conference in Panama. She is seated next to other delegates and there are name tents on the table.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries and Polar Affairs Maxine Burkett at the 2023 Our Ocean Conference in Panama. [State Department photo/Public Domain]

As we work closely with countries around the world to protect the ocean, we also know that we must bring all people – all ages, all races, all cultures, all communities – into the conversation. We are working hard to ensure that the United States engages with and elevates the voices of communities that have long been leading the charge to protect the ocean, often without being included in decision-making – including Tribal nations and Indigenous Peoples, youth, and women.  Progress happens when everyone has a seat at the table.  

And now, we’re looking to our next opportunities to mobilize action for the ocean.  As we move forward towards COP28 in Dubai and next year’s Our Ocean Conference in Greece, the United States will continue to prioritize bold steps forward.   

World Ocean Day presents us with an opportunity to reflect on and acknowledge all that the ocean provides to us and our responsibility to conserve it.  It is a chance to acknowledge the challenges we face, celebrate our successes, and look with ambition to the future.  We know what we need to do, and it’s time to turn the tide for our ocean once and for all.  

About the Author: Maxine Burkett is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries, and Polar Affairs.

U.S. Department of State

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